Here we go again, with another new useful tool to keep tabs on politicians. It is a browser plug-in named “Greenhouse” and it lets users easily access information on where our public servants get their campaign donations from.
Greenhouse gives a list of the top 10 industries from which a politician receives money. Besides that, it also highlights what percentage of a politician’s funds come from presumably grassroots supporters, those who make donations of 200 dollars or less. The software launched in early June and it can already be used for browsers Safari, Google Chrome and Firefox.
The creator of Greenhouse is a 16-year-old self-taught programmer named Nicholas Rubin. He explains on his website that “even though I am only 16 years old, not quite old enough to vote, I am old enough to know that our political system desperately needs fixing. I hope that this tool is one step in that direction.” Rubin says he got the name of his plug-in from a desire for transparency, like the glass walls of a greenhouse. The 16- year-old boy gives some insight into his own political philosophy and mission:
“It is my hope that providing increased transparency around the amount and source of funding of our elected representatives may play a small role in educating citizensand promoting change. If you use the extension when reading about a Congressional vote on energy policy, for example, maybe you’ll discover that a sponsor of a bill has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the oil and gas industry. Or maybe you’ll learn that the top donors to a member of Congress who opposes tort reform are lawyers and law firms. I use data from the last full election cycle (2012) and plan to update it as more relevant data becomes available. Special thanks to OpenSecrets.org for providing access to that data.
The motto of Greenhouse is: “Some are red. Some are blue. All are green.” What it signifies is that the influence of money on our government isn’t a partisan issue. Whether Democrat or
Republican, we should all want a political system that is independent of the influence of big money and not dependent on endless cycles of fundraising from special interests. The United States of America was founded to serve individuals, not big interests or big industries. Yet every year we seem to move farther and farther away from our Founders’ vision.”
Engadget, a technology blog, gives critique on the fact that Rubin’s data is a few years old. He replied that “the information in the popup is from the last full election cycle (ending in 2012) because it is the most complete data available.” Rubin gets his information from the Center for Responsive Politics Open Secrets website, which tracks lobbying and campaign contributions, and “plan[s] to update the data in the popup itself later in this election cycle as 2014 contributions are more complete.”